Report: $1.5B PPP abuse by Catholic Church
Another new bombshell report by the Associated Press shows once again that churches are stealing from the American taxpayer:
“As the pandemic began to unfold, AP revealed Feb. 4, “scores of Catholic dioceses across the U.S. received aid through the Paycheck Protection Program while sitting on well over $10 billion in cash, short-term investments or other available funds, an Associated Press investigation has found. And despite the broad economic downturn, these assets have grown in many dioceses.”
AP reports that “[t]he 112 dioceses that shared their financial statements collected at least $1.5 billion in taxpayer-backed aid. A majority of these dioceses reported enough money on hand to cover at least six months of operating expenses, even without any new income.”
The PPP is not even a year old and already the grift and abuse by church has been enormous. And, unfortunately, we’ll see more: The Paycheck Protection Program was reopened on Jan. 11.
Remember all the state/church problems with PPP that FFRF has fought and brought to light in the past year?
First, the Small Business Administration violated the Constitution and trampled longstanding agency rules to extend these loans to churches. This was clearly unconstitutional, as FFRF explained to the SBA at the time.
The SBA is currently — even under the new administration — working to make these rules permanent.
Second, this rule change was not authorized by the COVID relief act that created PPP. The CARES Act extended eligibility for loans from the SBA to nonprofits, which was new. But the law did not give the SBA the power to extend this eligibility to churches, nor could it — the Constitution prohibits government funding of religion. The CARES Act only mentions religion once, to prevent universities from using taxpayer funds for “capital outlays associated with facilities related to athletics, sectarian instruction, or religious worship.”
However, the SBA ignored that language, and the centuries-old bar on taxpayer-funded religious worship, and issued rules and guidance declaring that your taxpayer funds “can be used to pay the salaries of ministers and other staff engaged in the religious mission of institutions.” To do this, SBA had to suspend numerous rules that, correctly, prevented taxpayer funds from flowing to churches.
SBA was spurred to do this because a few congressmen, like Christian Nationalist Josh Hawley who has since helped incite an insurrection, declared after the fact and against the language of the law and the Constitution, that churches were beneficiaries. Again, FFRF was there to explain why this was wrong.
Third, the Trump administration was using the program to reward his closest political allies. FFRF broke the story of secretive White House calls between SBA officials and religious leaders that supported Trump politically. The preachers were encouraged to apply for the PPP funds and promised help. Trump-allied faith leaders were assured by the federal government that even a discriminatory fly-by-night “church” that provides absolutely no secular social services, and of which the owner is the sole employee, could have its wages covered by taxpayers during the PPP time period. On one call, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, a member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council, explained that the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, which took in $350,000–$1 million, “has literally been kept solvent . . . by the Paycheck Protection Plan (sic)” and explained that in 43 years of leading two faith-based ministries, he has “never asked for, nor received, one cent from the federal government” expressing his surprise that taxpayer funds could now flow to his ministry.
Finally, there’s well-documented but still emerging abuse. FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel wrote, “American churches took in as much as $10 billion in taxpayer funds through PPP loans. More than 400 evangelical churches received loans of at least $1 million. The Catholic Church might have taken in as much as $3.5 billion.” He explained that Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church took in nearly $5 million in taxpayer funds. Other mega-churches purchased private jets, returning the taxpayer money when they were caught.
And this is only the tip of the corruption, as the latest AP report shows.